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Belinda Benoit: Inside Osler’s COVID-19 Drive-Thru Testing Centre


January 20, 2021 - Hospital Family Story, Stories

As a Medical Laboratory Technician working in histology/pathology, Belinda Benoit spends most of her working hours in the laboratory at Brampton Civic Hospital, but last March she was called to support the COVID-19 response at Osler’s Etobicoke Drive-Thru Testing Centre in a role that was a real departure from her norm.

“At first I was apprehensive because at the time we didn’t know a lot about COVID-19,” she says. “Every day when I’d go into work it was like a moving target—everything changed from one day to the next. At first we were double bagging specimens and wiping everything, and then we learned we didn’t have to do so much of that. It was all a learning process.”

As case numbers increased, the Testing Centre saw volumes of more than 900 patients a day, putting incredible pressure on the staff. “There were days we would work 12 hours to get through the lineup. Patients were waiting sometimes hours to get a COVID test and that’s when we really had to work together,” she says. “I have no children so it was okay for me to work late but I would feel for the nurses who had kids. Those were the hard days, but we talked to encourage each other, ‘It's okay. We can do this. We just got another hour’, and we would work quicker—work together.”

Working in a new environment

Belinda returned to her role in the lab at the end of November, but not before experiencing weather extremes at each end of the spectrum at the Testing Centre.

“In the summer there were days that we worked in the extreme heat, and with our PPE it was hard at times, but we knew we were all working together to fight this virus,” she says. “Sometimes it felt like we were in an episode of M*A*S*H and we’re fighting a war with this virus.

“The hardest days were in November; at the end it was getting really cold. Nurses had to change their gloves and sanitize their hands after each patient and sometimes it would get so cold the sanitizer wasn't drying. But we did it. We’re health care workers, we’re frontline staff and we were needed to do the job to keep the virus from spreading. I think we did a great job.”

Stepping out and stepping up to fight COVID-19

Despite the challenges, Belinda says she is grateful for the chance to step out of her usual role and contribute to Osler’s fight against COVID-19.

“It was a great experience—it was once-in-a-lifetime,” she says. “I got to meet a lot of doctors, surgeons and nurses from all three sites that I would never have an opportunity to otherwise. I got to see how the other side works and they had questions for me—we helped each other and we ended up becoming really close. I made some lifelong friends there, too. I think under the circumstances it was a really great experience and I was happy that I got a chance to go and work there.”

Belinda has equally high praise for her colleagues all across Osler. “I was so proud of the people in management who worked tirelessly to get things running efficiently at the Testing Centre—I owe a big thank you to my supervisors Dora Pimentel and Donna Moore—and the team that introduced the app to book an appointment. There are so many people behind the scenes that people don't realize. Osler has a great staff and we are all working to win this fight.”